Pregnancy is a challenging time for many—both physically and mentally. Your body changes in several ways to accommodate a growing fetus. In fact, growing a baby is a very demanding event comparable to running marathons for 10 months.
To prepare for this monumental experience, consider adding exercise to your routine. Overall, it offers numerous benefits for both you and your baby. Additionally, most exercise is safe for pregnant people, but there are some specific exercises and intensities to avoid.
Some exercises will also give you much more benefit than others helping to reduce potential health concerns as well as pain and discomfort. Exercise can even help prepare you for delivery.
Just make sure you consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise plan. Here’s what you need to know about exercise in pregnancy.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Exercise is recommended for everyone, including those who are pregnant. Frequent activity helps encourage healthy weight gain. And, it also increases your fitness level and strengthens your cardiovascular system.
In fact, research shows mothers and babies have better health outcomes with prenatal exercise participation. The important thing is to stay active and get your blood flowing as well as follow any advice your doctor provides.
Benefits of exercise in pregnancy include:
- Shorter labors
- Less risk of preterm birth
- Fewer complications during pregnancy and delivery
- Shorter hospital stays
- Less risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia
- Healthier babies with less chance of future cardiovascular health issues
- Faster brain development for the infant
- Higher APGAR scores
- Less back pain
- Less constipation
- Decreased risk of cesarean delivery
The Best Pregnancy Exercises
Exercises that help to build strength and stamina are fantastic choices during pregnancy. After all, pregnancy, labor, and delivery are physically challenging, and being in good shape puts you in the best position for success. There is also less chance of some of the common causes of pain and discomfort.
Aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping, such as walking, using a stationary bike, water aerobics, and swimming, are all options you can try throughout pregnancy. These exercises are also low-impact and beginner-friendly.
Strength training during pregnancy is also recommended. The physical changes that occur during pregnancy—such as increased weight—can place pressure on the structure of your pelvis and spine.
Plus, hormonal changes cause your ligaments to become increasingly flexible to allow for labor and delivery. These factors can mean you are less stable and more at risk of pain and falls. Strength training can prevent and treat some of these issues.
Finally, breath-work is another vital aspect of pregnancy exercise. Learning to connect your breath to your pelvic floor and supporting musculature can help protect your spine and boost pelvic floor health.
Try the following breath-work practice before beginning exercise:
- Inhale while imagining your breath filling your vagina and rectum with air and your sit bones pushing apart.
- Exhale, feeling your breath leaving your pelvis, stomach, and rib cage.
- Concentrate on the feeling of your vagina and perineum pulling upward and inward, tightening as you exhale.
- Complete one to two sets of 10 repetitions each day.
Practice this breath-work connection pattern during your exercises and daily tasks that involve lifting, twisting, or carrying loads.
Use Breath-walking for Energy and Stress Relief
One-Week Pregnancy Exercise Plan
Here is a sample pregnancy exercise plan that includes all types of beneficial movements and activities. Be sure to talk with a healthcare provider before beginning this exercise regimen, though.
Also, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, talk through your fitness goals with your doctor to ensure what you have planned is appropriate for your situation. Once you have the all-clear, you can incorporate exercise into your daily routine (provided it fits within your doctor’s guidelines).
Today, you will be starting out slow and easing yourself into the exercise program. Going slow is especially important if you have been primarily sedentary up until this point. Here is an example of what you can start with.
- Go for a 20- to 30-minute walk
- Practice your breath-work
Today, the goal is to complete a full-body strength training routine that helps with posture and strengthening the parts of the body that can become weak and lead to back pain. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise and plan to do two to three full sets of the exercises below. Don’t forget to warm up first, though. You don’t want to pull any muscles.
- Goblet or bodyweight squats
- Bodyweight hip thrusts
- One-arm dumbbell row
- Pall-off press
Also, don’t forget to practice your breath-work.
Today is a repeat of Monday’s exercise. If you are feeling OK—and your doctor has given a green light—you can try to walk at a brisk pace if you feel up to it. Just don’t overdo it and monitor your intensity level.
- Go for a 20 to 30-minute swim or walk
- Practice your breath-work
Here is a second strength training routine that helps to build stamina and muscular endurance. Try to do three sets with 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise.
- Single-leg glute bridge with bodyweight
- Dead bugs
- Bird dogs
- Banded rows
- Resistance band Romanian deadlift
Don’t forget to practice your breath-work today.
Today includes some gentle stretching and mobility work to help ease any muscular tension you might be feeling. Try 10 repetitions of these stretches and go through the set two to three times.
- Wall angels
- Gate opener (be sure to hold onto something for balance)
- Hamstring stretch
- Cat cow stretch
- Pigeon pose
Also, go for a 20 to 30-minute walk today and practice your breath-work.
Use today as a recovery day. Your body needs time to adjust to your new exercise regimen. If you are feeling any discomfort or new symptoms that you have not experienced before, be sure to touch-base with a healthcare professional.
- Try prenatal yoga or get a massage
- Practice your breath-work
Today should consist of some light exercise. Make sure you listen to your body’s cues and try not to push yourself. You need to allow your body time to adjust to a new exercise regimen.
- Ride on a stationary bike for 20 to 30 minutes or more if you are able. Otherwise, go for a swim, walk, or perform another light cardiovascular exercise.
- Practice your breath-work
The top safety consideration is to be sure a healthcare professional approves of your exercise routine. Beyond that, you should take care to listen to your body—particularly during the first and third trimesters when fatigue might make exercise feel more strenuous.
While exercising during this time is still recommended, you may need to reduce the intensity, length, or frequency of your workouts. Here are some additional safety tips:
- Monitor intensity: Aim for a six or seven maximum intensity level based on an intensity scale of one to 10. You should be able to speak comfortably.
- Warm-up thoroughly: Stretch your chest, upper back, and hip flexors. Also, activate your glutes and engage your core before strength training. Hip mobility movements are also essential.
- Modify or discontinue specific exercises: Push-ups, planks, crunches, sit-ups, and trunk rotations (wood chops) should all be avoided starting in the second trimester and going forward.
- Make adjustments in later trimesters: You may need to reduce the load of your weights because it is difficult to properly brace your core in the second trimester and onward. Adjust your range of motion by performing smaller movements. For instance, try a more narrow stance for lunges and squats.
- Avoid lying on your back too long: While lying on your back for short periods is safe, you should avoid prolonging it in your third trimester.2
- Focus on form: It is always essential to ensure excellent form, but this is even more true during pregnancy. Slow your movements down, take more extended rest periods, and observe your form. And do not forget to use proper breathing techniques.
- Beware of pain: Experiencing pain around your pubic area or groin, around the middle of your buttocks, or the back of your thigh could indicate pelvic girdle pain. Stop exercising and call your doctor right away.
When to See a Doctor
If any exercises cause urine leakage or cause a heavy feeling in your perineum, it is best to avoid them and speak to a healthcare provider. Although this is a common experience, it may indicate pelvic floor issues that should be addressed.
Staying active during pregnancy is a fantastic way to increase your chances of a healthy and safe pregnancy, labor, and delivery. You and the baby will also benefit post-delivery in many ways, including a speedier recovery and healthier outcomes.
Strength training and light cardiovascular exercises are excellent choices for pregnancy. Also, learning to breathe correctly to protect your spine and improve your pelvic floor health is vital. Speak to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.